Daily Archives: August 1, 1988

Dixieland Daimyo

The 36th film of Japanese filmmaker Kihachi Okamoto, based on a story by Japanese black humorist Yasutaka Tsutsui, stages a weird and anachronistic encounter between three ex-slaves, who are all jazz musicians, en route to Africa just after the Civil War. They are shipwrecked in 19th-century Japan during a country-wide conflict between the Tokugawa shogun and rebel forces. Supported by a Daimyo lord who soon becomes a jazz buff, the musicians find themselves at the center of the Meiji restoration. Using a variety of Eastern and Western forms, including Kabuki, No theater, TV, and Spike Jones shenanigans, this broad farce is a genuine anomalysuggestive at times of Frank Tashlin, yet thoroughly Japanese. Punctuated by wry intertitles and featuring Japanese voice-overs during the occasional English dialogue, the movie tends to exult in its own silliness; one female Japanese character travels on a skateboard, and the Dixieland that is performed by the Americans along with Japanese playing traditional instrumentscredited to Tsutsui and Yosuke Yamashitais often infectious. Not a masterpiece, but loads of fun (1986). (JR)… Read more »

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History

One hundred and two cane toads were brought into Queensland, Australia, in 1935 in the hope that they’d get rid of sugarcane grubs. But the toads quickly overran the countryside, eating everything except cane grubs. In this documentary featurette (1988, 47 min.), filmmaker Mark Lewis extracts as much grim humor as possible from this problemwhich still persistswith all its grotesque ramifications: the strange mating habits of the toads; the ecological disaster caused by their poison, which also serves as an illegal hallucinogenic drug; the popularity of the toads as pets; and so on. (JR)… Read more »

The Blob

The original Blob was released 30 years ago this year. The producers of the 1988 version promise that due to modern special-effects technology, the Blob is now meaner, faster, and biggerand shoots out tendrils to catch its prey. Coproducer Jack Harris produced the original, too; Del Close, who appeared in 1974’s Son of Blob as a hippie farmer, plays the local preacher this time. With Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, and Candy Clark.… Read more »

Bird Now

A Belgian documentary feature about the great jazz musician Charlie Parker, shot in New York and in English by Marc Huraux. Interviews with family, friends, and fellow musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, are featured, as well as a few bits of (not always successful) docudrama and poetry. While the results are mixed, this film’s impressionistic treatment of its subject is infinitely superior to the mindless talking-heads format that usually dominates such efforts and is not entirely absent here. Sticking mainly to footage of contemporary city landscapes (mostly in Harlem) while a variety of musical and interview material is heard offscreen, the film at least has the virtue of not claiming any more knowledge about its subject than it showswhat you see is what you getand the interviews with two of Parker’s former wives are especially affecting. (JR)… Read more »

The Big Blue

The first English-language feature (1988) of French movie brat Luc Besson, now showing in an expanded version of 168 minutes (36 minutes longer than the original release), is a romantic adventure story about two rival deep-sea divers (Jean Reno and Jean-Marc Barr) and the latter’s girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette), a New York businesswoman. (JR)… Read more »

Betrayed

The usual limitation of director Costa-Gavras is that he makes well-crafted liberal thrillers that preach to the converted, but this 1988 movie, scripted by Joe Eszterhas, does something rather different. Debra Winger plays a federal agent who infiltrates an underground white supremacist group in the rural midwest. She becomes involved with one of the leaders (Tom Berenger) and ultimately wants out, but she’s forced by her Chicago-based operative (John Heard) to hang on for dear life. Rather than give us stock racist villains, the film offers a relatively three-dimensional view of their life, their community, and their all-American eccentricities. (Berenger’s character, for example, hunts down blacks and teaches anti-Semitism to his cute little girl, but he won’t shake the hand of an American Nazi.) The result is a far from simple look at a subject that most American movies haven’t the guts to go near, with a number of fine performances; Betsy Blair, John Mahoney, and Ted Levine are among the costars. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

Annie

John Huston is listed as director of this elephantine Ray Stark production based on the Broadway musical (which was based, in turn, on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip), but this is the kind of overproduced monolith in which even better directors can easily lose their way. Set during the Depression, the movie offers an insulting let them eat cake gesture toward the 1982 audience, but the pacing is so ragged and the characters so lifeless that few will be able to stay awake long enough to feel offended. With Aileen Quinn as Annie, Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks (who at least behaves like a trouper), Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Ann Reinking, Geoffrey Holder, and Edward Herrmann. PG, 128 min. (JR)… Read more »